Five tips from a proven leader: Dave Robinson


Story by Eddy Hoyle

Top Gun: Two words that describe Dave Robinson, both literally and figuratively. 

Robinson’s passion is teaching leaders to lead. He’s translated 25 years of experience in the U.S. Marine Corps leading high-performance teams into a second career. Robinson retired from military service in 2011 and founded Vertical Performance to work with CEOs and high-level executives on leadership development and organizational performance. “My wheelhouse is to work with companies to build leadership capacity and skills and to help navigate organizational change,” he said.

Robinson is a former combat fighter pilot and TOPGUN instructor. He flew over 3,500 hours and 100 combat missions in the FA-18 Hornet and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for supervising over 20,000 combat missions and more than 2,000 medical evacuations while serving as the director of air operations in Iraq.

He also served as a strategy director for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Department of Defense. In his final assignment he was the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 31 in Beaufort.

As CEO of Vertical Performance, he works with executives on strategy, leadership, change management and continuous improvement to help leaders inspire their teams to create world-changing impact. As an expert consultant and international speaker, he’s often asked if he has written a book. “I’d always go deeper during Q&As, but I always left feeling that I had so much more to give,” he stated. So to provide more in-depth information about leadership, he wrote The Substance of Leadership: A Practical Framework for Effectively Leading a High-Performing Team, published last year.

Dave and his wife, Mary Delle (who is a college counselor at Hilton Head Christian Academy), live in Bluffton and have “embraced the beauty and lifestyle here.” They enjoy the beach, water skiing, boating, and biking. They also take pride in their three grown children and their spouses: Abbey and her husband, Nick; Drew and his wife, Alana; and Audrey.

Keys to Success

1. Create a culture of excellence. “Set high standards and hold yourself to a higher standard. Culture starts at the top, and the example you set will establish the tone for your entire team. Create a culture of excellence that’s founded on integrity and trust by striving to always do things right and do the right thing.”

2. Take care of your people. Robinson emphasized the importance of serving those you’re privileged to lead. “Your people will make or break you as a leader. Instead of focusing on what they can do for you, think about what you can do for them. Find out what their biggest challenge is, and then do something about it. If you take care of your people, they will go the extra mile to take care of you, each other and your mission.”

3. Stay focused on your mission. “It’s easy to get distracted in today’s environment of information saturation, and if you’re not careful, your team can start to feel like everything is a priority – and then nothing is really a priority. As a leader, set clear priorities that are aligned with your purpose and mission so you can help your team ‘keep the main thing the main thing.’”

4. Inspire your team members. “Find ways to get your people emotionally invested in mission success. First, earn their trust by getting to know them personally and by treating everyone with fairness, dignity and respect. Second, help them see that they’re a valuable part of something larger than themselves by showing them how they contribute to your mission in a meaningful, purposeful way.”

5. Empower your team. “One of the hardest things for leaders to learn is how to let go and not micromanage. Members of high-performing teams have a sense of ownership for mission success. To empower your team, give them a vision of what success looks like, and then trust them to help you figure out how to achieve it.” LL

Related reading

To learn more about keys to success for leading a high-performing team, you can find Robinson’s book, The Substance of Leadership on Amazon.

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